Friday, January 07, 2011

Notable Links to Linkable Notes

* Gilbert Ryle's Jane Austen among the Moralists (PDF).
There are weaknesses: Ryle massively exaggerates the similarities between Austen and Shaftesbury, most of which can be explained by the influence of novels of sensibility, whose vocabulary she uses but radically rethinks; he is surprisingly unjust to Persuasion and his reading of Mansfield Park is astoundingly superficial (not wrong as it goes, but very, very limited), especially given how many times he had read them both (Ryle re-read Austen pretty much every year); he is sometimes more condescending than he really has a right to be, and some of his concessions about supposed weaknesses in Austen's works are merely signs of weaknesses in his own (otherwise largely good) taste, and are really unnecessary concessions to aesthetic prejudices in society that should not be indulged. But the basic point, that Austen should be taken seriously by moral philosophers, is quite right, although not (as far as I can see) widely followed, more's the pity. But one does occasionally see something along these lines, and it's due to Ryle.

Now we just need something that does the same for George Eliot -- who may not be a Jane Austen but is undeniably also worth taking very seriously in moral philosophy (and the case for whom is far more impressive than the fairly decent case that Martha Nussbaum has made for Henry James).

* The reviews for this Kindle book, currently priced at over $6000, are hilarious.

* Brian Doherty has an interesting article suggesting that TSA security procedures are Benthamite in spirit: i.e., to impose good behavior by a Panopticon.

* Quilting Basics. I always find quilting interesting; it's at least as much art as mosaic but tends not to be appreciated as much. But even very basic quilts serve William Morris's two ends of Use and Beauty, and often in spades; they make everything better.

* Europe in Legos.

* David Tubbs reviews Martha Nussbaum's From Disgust to Humanity.

* In a recent interview Richard Carrier made some comments critical of how Tim and Lydia McGrew have handled Bayes' Theorem. So Lydia McGrew responded, and in comments at Victor Reppert's blog, Tim McGrew is showing ways in which Carrier's expositions of the Theorem are flawed. As there's no question that the McGrews know Bayes' Theorem and its philosophical implications under typical Bayesian assumptions, it should be an interesting take-down.

* It occurred to me recently that one of the benefits from the same-sex marriage debate is that it shows just how poorly thought out everyone's account of marriage is. In principle, most people want an account of marriage that makes miscegenatic marriage OK and incestuous marriage not OK -- i.e., that makes fathers marrying their daughters at least very difficult but puts no serious obstacles in the way of blacks marrying whites. There are people who would gladly get rid of one or both of these constraints, but most people are not those people. It is seen over and over again, however, that most of the arguments for same-sex marriage are such that there's no principled way they wouldn't apply to incestuous marriage as well and that most of the arguments against same-sex marriage are such that there's no principled way they wouldn't apply to miscegenatic marriage as well. At the very least, why they wouldn't apply to these other cases is either left unsaid or handled with an adroit, "You're just plain stupid if they think they do," which is notably not informative and a sure sign of a lack of principled reasons. You do find arguments that don't fall into either of these undesirable groups, but given how little they are emphasized it seems that they are precisely the arguments people consider only to be supplemental. So I propose that from now on nobody be allowed to give any arguments on the subject unless they also say whether their argument applies to these two other cases -- and if so, say why they think that's OK, and if not, say what is the principled reason for thinking it doesn't. It certainly would improve the discussion.

* Of all the intelligence agencies in the world that are recognizable by name, Mossad is the one that probably has the most widespread reputation for managing to succeed with extraordinarily elaborate schemes; but, successful as it has often been, much of this reputation is just accumulating rumor combined with Arab conspiracy theories. Foreign Policy has a list of some recent conspiracy-theories that have been floating around about Mossad. (ht)

* Awesome news: on Christmas Eve, thousands of Muslims attended Coptic Masses in order to make sure that there would be no attacks. (ht) On New Year's Eve 21 people were killed in an attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria, and the response from many sectors of Egypt's Muslim community has been splendid. (The Copts, of course, don't use the Gregorian calendar, which is why their Christmas Eve is after New Year's rather than before.) It was a very brave thing to do -- the people who engage in these sorts of attacks are often people of the "If you're not with us, you're against us" type. And it was a very noble thing to do; a very good sign, and we should pray for this trend to continue.


  1. awatkins696:45 AM

    How is the typical teleological argument (i.e. proper function of reproductive faculties) against same-sex marriage also applicable to inter-racial marriage? Race is in a sense accidental. A black man and white woman are both essentially humans.

    Obviously this argument fails to condemn incest. But that's simply because sexual relations between a father and daughter are not wrong from the point of proper functions of sexual organs, but other things (what should be proper emotional bonds, the order of the society of the family, genetic defects, and so on).

  2. awatkins696:50 AM

    By the way, just wondering, how did you find the $6000 book? lol

  3. branemrys3:22 PM

    That argument has receded quite a bit into the background over the past three decades, as (1)  most people don't want to face up to other consequences of the premises; and (2) most people lack the background to develop such an argument in anything other than a very crude way. Sophisticated versions certainly don't have a problem with it; that's precisely what makes them sophisticated. But most people have only a vague feeling to back up claims about proper function, and no principled way to admit the proper function argument against same-sex marriage without leaving it at least open for someone to argue for a genetic or racial purity function. Teleological arguments were run by miscegenationists, after all. To close the door to those requires a considerably more precise account of functions and ends than most people have.

  4. branemrys3:24 PM

    I'm not sure; these links usually develop over about a week or two. Probably someone else linked to it and I just didn't remember to note the hat-tip at the time.

  5. Chris Huff11:43 PM

    By the way, there's another $6000 book which Amazon sells covering the topic of Nuclear Physics (made by the same publisher apparently).  It also has some hilarious reviews, in particular the one from Evil Overlord who was dissatisfied in purchasing it to build his doomsday device.

    Also, since I mainly lurk and don't comment, I figured that I would take the opportunity to give my compliments on the good blog!

  6. The Codgitator8:34 PM

    I busted a gut on those reviews, thanks!

  7. The Codgitator9:09 PM

    And then there's this Poe-try.


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